Oh, Say, Can You C The five C’s maximize calf-raising success

April 14, 2010 10:02 AM

When it comes to the ABC's of calf management, skip the A's and B's and concentrate on the C's, advises Sheila McGuirk, University of Wisconsin veterinarian.

From birth, provide calves with a clean, comfortable environment with good colostrum management, consistent feeding and management practices and plenty of dietary calories, McGuirk says. These steps arm calves to defend themselves against the three most significant disease problems that affect dairy youngsters: diarrhea, pneumonia and septicemia.

Colostrum. Feed calves 4 qt. of good-quality colostrum within the first few hours of life, McGuirk says. "At least strive to ensure that all calves are fed colostrum within the first four hours,” she notes. "When calves are unable to drink all the colostrum, use an esophageal tube feeder and be sure to feed 4 qt.”

Cleanliness. Calves should be born in a clean, dry place. "If maternity areas are dirty, newborn calves will be exposed to a variety of disease-causing organisms, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Mycobacterium paratuberculosis [Johne's disease],” McGuirk says. "Unless calves are removed from that area within 10 minutes, the outcome will be more sickness and a higher death loss in the herd.”

Among all of the animals present on a dairy farm, the highest morbidity and mortality rates generally occur in baby calves prior to weaning, at a rate of 7.8%, according to USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System.

Calories. After the first day of life, the milk or milk replacer feeding rate should allow calves to double their birth weight by weaning time. McGuirk recommends calf managers increase the number of feedings or enhancing the caloric intake of calves in cold weather.

Begin offering a handful of high-quality calf starter on the second day of life. "It's important to do this because the calf starter stimulates the development of the rumen,” McGuirk explains. "Calves need to be eating at least 2 lb. of calf starter daily before they are weaned at five to eight weeks of age.” High-quality calf starter is palatable, high in protein (18% to 20%) and energy and low in fiber.

Comfort. Provide young animals with enough dry bedding so the legs of calves are completely covered when they are lying down. Shelter from drafts and wind is essential, especially during cold weather.

Consistency. Consistency of newborn protocols and daily calf management is paramount, McGuirk empha-sizes. "Calves should be fed the proper amounts of the same feeds at the same temperature every day, and they should be observed at the same times every day,” she recommends. "Calf management work should be handled by the same person or persons every day. Changes in the routine will stress calves, and animals that are stressed are more likely to get sick.”



Remove calves promptly from adult animal environments. (Use hutches or a separate facility.)

House calves in individual hutches, stalls or pens in small groups until after weaning. Bedding should be deep enough to cover the calf's legs when lying down.

Provide good ventilation and a draft-free environment. Solid partitions that prevent contact between calves in individual pens prevent disease, but keep the front, back and top of individual pens as open as possible for the best air quality.

Locate calf housing upwind, uphill and upstream from adult cattle areas so any manure runoff from adult animals will not reach the calves.

Clean, wash, disinfect and dry out hutches, stalls or pens between calves.

Prevent manure contamination of feed, feed area and feeding utensils. Make sure boots, hand tools, skid steers and equipment are clean. Baby calves should never be in contact with manure from adult animals.

Work from youngest to oldest animals when doing chores.

Provide individual feed and water pails for each calf and keep them separate.

Wash and sanitize shared milk pails and bottles between feedings.

Provide fresh calf starter, milk replacer and water every day. Discard refused feed away from the calf housing area.

Source: Sheila McGuirk, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine

Bonus content:

Spanish translation - El ABC de la cría de becerras

Rasing Calves…The 5 C''s of a Health Start


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